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Writers, Intellectuals Ask Soviet Writers to Seek Cultural Freedom for USSR Jews

August 6, 1969
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More than 30 American writers, artists and university professors have appealed to the Soviet Writers Union to seek to restore the cultural freedom of three million Jews in the Soviet Union. The appeal was sponsored by the Jewish Labor Committee which said it had been sent to Moscow.

A number of intellectuals identified with the New Left which has often sided with the Arabs in the Middle East conflict were among the signatories. They included Dr. Noam Chomsky, writer and professor of anthropology; Michael Harrington, author and social scientist, and Nat Hentoff. author and journalist. The appeal was circulated by Saul Bellow, the novelist, and Irving Howe, professor of English at Hunter College.

Among other things, the letter charged that Soviet support of the Arab position “has hardened the campaign of anti-Semitism still more and threatens to completely eradicate an entire culture.”

The appeal urged the Soviet Writers Union to use its influence for the restoration of Jewish schools, publishing facilities, periodicals, theaters and social clubs in the USSR. “You have lived through the destruction of all things Jewish under Stalin.” the document stated. “You have seen the continuation of anti-Semitism under (Nikita S.) Krushchev. You know that over three million Soviet Jews are still denied their basic civil rights–to Jewish education and religion, to any cultural or community existence. Official Soviet practice still perpetuates the oppressive policies which deprive Jews of any continuity with their past along with any hope of a future. Alone among the multitude of Soviet nationality and religious groups, Jews are singled out for discrimination, hostility and degradation.”

The letter observed that “a large body of evidence has accumulated over the past five years demonstrating a sharp new sense of Jewish consciousness and identity, especially in the younger generation of Soviet Jews. Their tragedy is that they have no institutions–cultural, educational or social–through which to express that consciousness. In this fundamental way. the Jews of the USSR are uniquely deprived.”

The letter explained why the Americans approached the Writers’ Union on the matter. “It seems to us that writers and intellectuals must also be moral critics and guides of society.” it said. “And so we appeal to you to assume a moral burden on behalf of the silent Jews of the Soviet Union. We ask you to do what you can to secure for Soviet Jews the option of perpetuating their heritage and culture, and so, to bolster their human dignity.”

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